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By Mary Chang
on Monday, 24th November 2014 at 2:00 pm
“Hypnotic. Arabian funeral. Depression in the desert. Sepia rainbows.
“This is the psychedelic nightmare spun by The Wytches, who are spreading their subversive message across the UK in the dark guide of SOS surf riffs, desert riffs, melancholic shuffles and a kaleidoscopic stage performance that will put you under.”
This was the description on the DC9 Web site of Thursday evening’s headliner the Wytches. Quite accurate, I reckon: there is a dark and dangerous undercurrent of subversion to the music of the Brighton-based trio, which initially sounded strange to me, given that they live by the beautiful southern coastline of England. However, I learned on the night that two of their band members are originally from Peterborough; I’ll have to ask our John what the deal is with that place and if it informs the pervading doom and gloom of their sound. But that is neither here nor there: what is far more important to note is that despite my initial impression of the tracks of theirs I heard online and thinking, “is that all?”, the live performance of the Wytches is an interesting, beguiling mixture of swirly guitar and powerful bass and drum beats, delivered with animalistic, raw vocals, and money spent on a ticket to see this band will be worth every last penny.
Further, anyone who has listened to their music before knows of the muscle and raucousness of the group’s sound, but what you will find when experiencing them live is the nuances of brilliant songwriting that might not be immediately apparent to the untrained ear. That is, there is method to this madness. They can write and play a good song, as well as give good show. Isn’t it a truly sad development of popular music that these three things are all too often mutually exclusive these days?
I found myself easily and entirely willingly drawn into the Eastern-tinged melodies of the band, most always delivered alongside a punishing rhythm section. There were moments where I could not help but smile to myself, thinking about my younger years when I thought Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’ was a pretty cool tune. I’m happy to say that the kind of vibe managed by Led Zeppelin on ‘Physical Graffiti’ has not only been inspirational to a younger generation of musicians, the vibe is been continued. And stretched, modified and improved on.
Past singles ‘Wire Frame Mattress’ and ‘Burn Out the Bruise’ are noteworthy for the anguished screams of guitarist/frontman Kristian Bell and its entirely headbanging-inducing thunder well appreciated by the crowd assembled in Washington. The seductive rhythm of ‘Robe for Juda’, probably better known to most readers of TGTF for its extremely low-budget video, doesn’t fail to bring rapture to tonight’s audience, is a standout at this show too, along with debut single ‘Digsaw’. All the while, you can only be mesmerised by what is enfolding in front of your very eyes: three young men, clearly skilled with their weapon of choice, giving their all and ostensibly, if you pay close attention to the lyrics, giving life what for when it comes to the suffering of relationship-based angst.
‘Weights and Ties’ provides a superb counterpoint, showing the band’s more surf pop, softer side. See, they can play their instruments without pummeling them to death. ‘Wide at Midnight’, characterised by a slower tempo than most of the Wytches’ debut album ‘Annabel Dream Reader’, is another indicator that there is far more here than just loud guitars, loud drumming and wailing. Both tell me that there is still plenty of mileage in the ethos this trio are peddling. More, please.
You might be in luck to catch the band live next week after they return from the States; all the details of their last dates in 2014 are this way.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 19th November 2014 at 4:00 pm
James Bay, without a doubt, is one of the most in-demand musicians in the UK at the moment. The singer/songwriter from Hitchin has been riding high on his current sold out UK/Irish tour this month, as well the sales of his upcoming one in April 2015.
Next Monday, the always hatted Bay will be releasing his next single ‘Hold Back the River’. The folks at Transmitter nabbed this powerful live performance of him and his band playing the single. Watch it below.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 18th November 2014 at 4:00 pm
Bell X1‘s Paul Noonan, who has been recording with his musician friends under the solo project title Printer Clips, has released a brand new duet with his with Amy Van Den Broek. This time though, it’s for a very worthy cause and comes directly as a result from their own experience. The couple’s daughter Aislinn was hospitalised at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, Ireland’s largest paediatric hospital, when she was only a few days old. Noonan says these words about the experience:
“When our little girl Aislinn was 9 days old we took her to Crumlin hospital as she had been in pain and in distress for long enough, and we didn’t know what else to do. Turns out she had a bad intestinal infection, and there she stayed for 3 weeks, in the aptly named Nazareth ward.
One of the tests at the time showed that she has a hole in her heart – I remember staring at the screen, watching the tiny hole open and close with her heartbeat, winking at me…
We were really taken aback by the love and tender care she received in Crumlin, and would like to do something for them in return.
So, I’ve written a song called ‘Hole in Her Heart’, and recorded it with Aislinn’s mama Amy.
We’d like to put it out there to raise some money and possibly more importantly awareness of the fact that Crumlin still needs our help in taking care of our kids when they get sick”.
All the proceeds of the single will go directly to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin. It can be purchased from iTunes or as a special Christmas card here. Noonan and Van Den Broek performed a moving rendition of the song last Friday on RTE’s The Late Late Show, and you can watch it below.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 18th November 2014 at 2:00 pm
Here’s something that doesn’t happen everyday. Well, for this music editor anyway. Somehow, on Saturday night I went to hole in the wall DC9 to see two bands that were both…wait for it…American. And the opening band Cold Fronts aren’t even from that far away at all. I learned after the show that the Philadelphia foursome were playing an outdoor generator show at SXSW 2012, unaware that Warner Brothers / Sire Records bigwig Seymour Stein was on the sidelines, taking notes. They’re now signed with Warner. So you budding musicians out there, dreams do come true.
But you’re probably wondering what they sound like, aren’t you? Admittedly, I didn’t do a huge amount of research for this show, deciding that since it was a Saturday night, I was going to relax, open my ears and take it all in. This worked especially well with Cold Fronts, as their performance was every bit about the music as it was about having fun. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the members of a band jumping around with their guitars without abandon and really, only two bands came to mind: the Cribs and PAWS, both featuring insane guitar players happily throwing themselves around the stage. I wasn’t far off the mark at all: singer/guitarist Craig admitted to me that he’s a massive fan of the Cribs, as well as PAWS’ track ‘Sore Tummy’. (Hey hey, Jarman Brothers, I hope you are listening? Because I just found out they have the same booking agent as you. Google them and sort out an opening slot for them on your next tour.)
The meteorological term ‘cold front’ usually indicates changes in barometric pressure and temperature and possible precipitation. Not usually a harbinger of good things. However, don’t let Cold Fronts’ name put you off; I was told the name comes from the fact that many of their songs were written during the winter months as an attempt to battle seasonal affective disorder. Their newest single ‘Hit Me’ (stream below) is a great example of a song to knock you out of the wintry weather doldrums: the chorus uses a clever metaphor between gambling and relationships, and the entire thing is just so darn catchy and the lyrics are easily sung along to (but they’re really witty lyrics too) that I’m almost positive it’s going to be a radio hit in due course. You heard it here first… Another one of their songs whose name I did not catch was punctuated by what appeared to be each of the four band members racing each other to see who could play the loudest and faster. This is some band with muscle! An album should be on its way in 2015.
Chicago’s Empires spent the last 6 years like all other bands: working hard. This year though the band released their third studio album ‘Orphan’ on Island Records’ Chop Shop imprint. Hopefully this LP will prove to be the breakthrough they’ve been looking for. John reviewed their EP ‘How Good Does It Feel’ this summer and he had described their bass lines reminding him of the Vaccines. However, upon actually seeing them play live, they recalled for me not the Vaccines but a couple of massive bands from recent memory. Their musical style is of the bombastic rock variety: think U2, when they were actually good, ‘Joshua Tree’-era and before they started to suck, and the Killers before Brandon Flowers’ ego inflated beyond reasonable proportions.
There’s even hints of Springsteen and ‘The ’59 Sound’-era Gaslight Anthem in the driving ‘Keep It Steady’, one of the set’s standouts from their 2012 album ‘Garage Hymns’. Heavy-hitting percussion? Check. Epic guitars? Check. I thought it didn’t exist anymore, but it’s clear Empires are the sound of 21st century American rock ‘n’ roll, and it couldn’t sound better. You also can’t escape being mesmerised by frontman Sean Van Vleet; he goes sans instrument during a show, except for occasional tambourine banging, something that his light-haired, stubbly doppelganger Ricky Wilson also indulges in. The band tell me they actually supported Kaiser Chiefs before in their hometown of Chicago but at the time, Wilson was wearing a hat and therefore no physical comparisons could be drawn. Van Vleet’s baritone is similar to that of Matt Berninger’s and also to some extent Tom Smith, but Empires are nowhere near as gloomy as Editors. Which I think is a good thing for American audiences.
What’s even more startling is while they might not be household names yet, this band already appear to have an army of fans: wearing flannel over their Empires’ emblazoned t-shirts, these girls were quick to solidify their places down the front even before they took the stage. These were also the same audience members who sang back the lyrics of ‘Spit the Dark’, from the band’s self-released debut album from 2008, ‘Howl’, word for word back to Van Vleet while he pointed the mike in their direction, with the refrain “I will guide you in the night” repeated back and forth between singer and crowd. For this to happen at a place like DC9, that’s dedication. Dedication I fully expect to see repeated on a much larger scale sometime in the near future.
After the cut: Empires’ set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Empires with Cold Fronts at DC9, Washington DC – 15th November 2014
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 17th November 2014 at 4:00 pm
The super soulful Sinkane will be starting a tour of England and Ireland tomorrow evening at Bristol Start the Bus. Ahead of that, he’s released this groovy video from a show he did last month in Brooklyn at Baby’s All Right, which is turning out to be the venue where all indie UK artists end up playing the first time they’re in our country. Watch below as he and his crew perform ‘How We Be’ in front of a group of eager, dancing fans.
Sinkane’s album ‘Mean Love’ was released to critical acclaim back in September on City Slang.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 17th November 2014 at 2:00 pm
With a chilly temperature hovering around 0 degrees after the sun had set last Friday, you’d think a DC gigging crowd wouldn’t show up until doors had opened at the U Street Music Hall. But you would be wrong. However, to the fans that braved the cold to be sure they’d be as close to the front of the stage as possible, the draw for the night was entirely worth.
But before we get that, let’s talk about the opener, shall we? After a while, the young, adorable singer/songwriter women of the world start to blur together in my mind. Unless I’m mistaken – or maybe I’m just not going to the right shows? – there aren’t that many of them in my neck of the woods making waves. >Alicia Rae is from Waldorf, Maryland (pretty much only known as the birthplace of Good Charlotte) and is a relative newcomer to the scene. Having only gone professional a few short years ago, she is like the evening’s headliner: entirely self-taught. Her track ‘Autumn’, appropriate for this time of year, has already been played thousands of times on Spotify.
For this audience that consisted mostly of teenage girls who heart One Direction, she hit the spot with her tearjerk-y but inescapably simplistic songs about life and love, sung in a fittingly sweet voice. She explained she wrote ‘Hideaway’ while a tornado threatened outside her window; she thanked her dad for the inspirational phrase “1-2-3 forever” for another tune. ‘Sweet Melody’, the title track from her forthcoming EP scheduled to be out in 2015, can be downloaded for free from Rae’s Web site.
I have to give full credit to our David Wriglesworth for tipping Lewis Watson and recommending me to have a listen to his music. As many of you know, the singer/songwriter genre isn’t my favourite: the idea of someone dredging up old heartbreaks for art usually bores me to tears. Get on with your life already! So it takes a very special act to truly get my attention. The first and admittedly unfair thing most critics will notice about Lewis Watson is his age. But forget that he’s 22: what you will glean from the Oxfordshire native’s debut album ‘The Morning’ released this summer on major Warner Music is that his songwriting is not only emotional but entirely sincere. (If you have any question about this sincerity, read David’s q&a with Watson posted last week.)
This may be coloured somewhat by the fact that the young man is still completely humbled by the overwhelming reception he gets from fans at his shows, which includes this short first headline tour of North America this month. He better get used to it: I always wear earplugs to gigs but my word, I needed them with the amount of screaming and shouts of “I love you!” that went on between the songs. I bring up the word ‘humble’ because last month, he and his band had visa issues, which necessitated a postponement of the entire string of dates and some venue changes. Instead of blaming the American embassy in London or anyone else, he took to his old friend YouTube to record a video for his fans to personally relay his regrets for the delay. What really got me was when he specifically apologised for moving the DC area date from Jammin’ Java in northern Virginia to U Street Music Hall in downtown Washington, saying that he’d “been assured it’s only a half-hour drive away” and he hoped people would be able to make it to the new show. He wouldn’t have known that most people come into the city for shows all the time and Jammin’ Java is an outlier whose listings only represent a small percentage of our area’s gigs, but the fact that he went the extra mile to personally apologise for the change melted my heart.
He apologised again for the venue change at the show Friday night and also for the fact that he only had his bespectacled keyboardist and backing vocalist Roxanne with him. Endearingly, he implored the audience at times to imagine a full band behind him, with drum flourishes and the like, saying he was sorry that the rest of his crew couldn’t make. To be honest, he didn’t really need them and I feel like it was a special treat to witness this stripped back set that allowed his songwriting talent and the beautiful timbres of his voice to really shine. I mean, after all, aren’t all singer/songwriters’ songs initially conceived with only acoustic guitar and voice anyway?
Shrieks and sighs of delight from punters punctuated the start and finish to every one of his songs, which led him to smile bashfully but broadly in appreciation. Describing Los Angeles as “a really weird place” where he wrote the aptly titled ‘LA Song’ made the crowd laugh at his Englishness; his appreciation for grape soda (“we don’t have this in England!”) and twist top bottles in America was met with similar amusement. Hey, if you got it (and your fans love the fact you’re English), flaunt it.
The place went hushed and quiet as a tomb for a gorgeous unplugged version of ‘Halo’, presented by Lewis and Roxanne up on the edge of the front of the stage. That was a clear standout, as was a surprising cover of Everything Everything‘s ‘The Peaks’, which he prefaced by saying how much their debut album ‘Man Alive’ meant to him, and that everyone in the audience should check them out. (Good man.) Watson explained the wistfully regretful ‘Ghost’ was written shortly after he’d been friendzoned, and really, who of us haven’t be there, am I right? We also were treated to the dark yet remarkably gorgeous new song ‘When the Water Meets the Mountains’, which Watson described as the desire of spending the last moments of life before the apocalypse in joyful recognition with the one you love. Pretty heavy subject matter, yet brilliantly done.
In just this one song, he demonstrated his ability to present genuine feelings yet with the confines of pop sensibility. David reckons he could be the next Ed Sheeran; I’ve never been a fan of Sheeran’s so if I’m honest, I hope Watson’s sincerity takes him even further than him. I’m looking forward to seeing Watson’s reception in Austin at next year’s SXSW.
After the cut: Lewis Watson’s set list.
Continue reading (SXSW 2015 flavoured!) Live Review: Lewis Watson with Alicia Rae at U Street Music Hall, Washington DC – 14th November 2014
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